Death of a Star Sailor


Some steps are bigger than others.

In 1927, French science fiction writer Joseph Henri Honoré Boex was looking for a word to describe explorers who left the bounds of earth to explore space. He hit on a combination of two Greek words: Astron (star) and nautes (sailor).* Twenty years later when the scientific community was looking for a word to describe the new breed of explorers they were developing they chose this word: astronaut.

There is a piece of me that wishes we could just call astronauts “star sailors.”

This past Saturday, August 25, 2012, one of those Star Sailors took his last voyage. Neil Armstrong, the first, and one of only 12 men to ever walk on the moon, died. As the world has reflected on his life, I have been struck by the Reckless nature of those individuals who willingly put their lives on the line, fully understanding what the consequences may be, in the name of exploration.

Astronauts are an amazing example of Reckless people.

Though the course of this discussion of Recklessness we have defined it as “acting without care of the consequences.” It is a person who understands that the path that they are on may be dangerous, or potentially harmful, and they go in that direction anyway.

Some go because of the adventure, some go because of a sense of duty, others push forward because they simply believe the job must be done.

Every astronaut, from the beginning of the space program has understood the hazards of what they have undertaken. The members of the early Gemini and Apollo missions all had friends who had died. We all know the tragic story Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chafee, the Apollo 1 astronauts who died during training when a fire broke out in the cabin. In addition to these deaths, five other Astronauts died as a result of training jet crashes, including Robert Lawrence who was supposed to have been the first African-American in space.

It is easy for us, looking in the rearview mirror that is history, to write off the danger those early astronauts faced. They risked everything, knowing what it could mean, but they went forward anyway. There is a chilling speech that was prepared for Nixon to read in the event that Armstrong and Aldrin were stranded on the moon. (You can read the speech here) There would have been no possibility of a rescue mission. Reading this speech brings the Reckless nature of what they were doing into a whole new light.

These men went to the moon, not without thought to the consequences, but in spite of the potential consequences.

Neil Armstrong himself said it best: “There can be no great accomplishment without risk.”

Too often we live lives designed to avoid risk. But risk is required if we are to accomplish great things. As followers of Christ, called to be redemptive agents in our world, risk is part of the job description.

Godspeed Mr. Armstrong. Thank you for your example.

* If you want to get technical, Boex used the French word “astronautique.” American writer Neil Jones was the first to use the Americanized version “Astronaut” in his book The Death’s Head Meteor.